Stay ahead, move ahead with innovative marketing
by David J Bilinsky
Everybody gets the blues
Everybody got to cry
Take the good with the bad
Take the lows and the highs
Well you work and you worry
Spend your life paying dues
Everybody has a hard time sometime
Everybody gets the blues…
Words and music Angel Michael
Recorded by Kenny Wayne Shepherd
Okay, the forest industry is in the dumps, the salmon industry is sinking faster than an anchor without a rope, mining has gone south and to add insult to injury, the newspapers are full of the good times in Ontario and the USA. Too bad they forgot to invite BC to the party…
Fed up with hearing trite lines such as when life hands you a bunch of lemons, make lemonade? Mortgage payment due? Staff want a raise? Spouse would like to eat out somewhere other than under the golden arches?
While some lawyers are doing quite well, for a number of others out there today life is a hard dose of reality. Alternatives? ICBC, I understand, offers five weeks holiday (with no receivables to collect) to be on staff (or was it seven?) with all the benefits…contact Cathy Morton for further details. Provincial Court judges just got a raise…So, how can the rest of us make it to the next pay day and GST remittance deadline? Here are some tips for squeezing those lemons…
- When the going gets tough, the tough go marketing. This is not necessarily an expensive proposition. Offer to put on a seminar for your bank on an issue that is relevant and meaningful to the community and to yourself. Topics? Wills and estates, probate, collection of overdue accounts, setting up a small or home based business, incorporations or something of local interest (such as landlord-tenant concerns).
- Write an article for your local community paper. They may want someone like you to become the next legal “Dr. Ruth”.
- While laying-off staff is never pleasant, moving to a contract basis for services may make economic sense. That way, when times are slow, you are not necessarily carrying costs that you can ill afford. Gauge this one carefully. Perhaps you can let your staff work at home, which reduces their costs for childcare and reduces your overhead as well.
- Need help organising your office from an economic standpoint? Contact Felecia Folk at the Law Society. She is available to help.
- Grab CLE’s book: Managing Your Law Firm. It is full of information, tools, and tips.
- Become lean and mean. By this I mean take a hard look at your intellectual property. How well organised and up to date are your precedents? Does your work reflect old statutes or has become out-dated by new legal developments? Have you incorporated formatting and other enhancements that make your documents look good and reflect on the degree of care and attention that you put into your work? Are your precedents set up to prompt you for information, making your work faster and easier? Does your BF system work well and do you act on these BF’s promptly? Are you taking full advantage of your existing software and hardware? Seek to eliminate wasted time. Revise, update, correct. Remember the Boy Scouts–Be Prepared.
- Can you look to new office arrangements? If you are tied to a lease, bring in an accountant or other non-lawyer professional to share space, costs and clients. (Take care to protect your files and your client’s confidentiality in accordance with The Rules and your professional responsibilities). Often, two complementary professionals can increase each other’s business by being attentive to each other’s opportunities, services and requirements.
- Advertise, if you must. Explore more creative means before taking this step. Certainly it can work, but so do other less-expensive methods.
- Create brochures dealing with specific legal topics and issues. Have them available at your Bank, your accountant’s office, your insurance broker (why not? They are looking for ways to add value to their clients, too) and others. Even if they don’t produce clients immediately, they will create a path of goodwill leading straight to your door…
- Join your Chamber of Commerce or other community group. You will spend time out of the office and take your mind off your troubles. But for God’s sake, be positive! Remember that people are facing their own difficulties. As a lawyer you are presenting yourself as a professional problem solver. Project an image of where you want to be…
- Have kids? Get involved in their sports and community activities. You will meet people and also have a good time. Or start attending the school’s Parent Activity Council. As a lawyer, your point of view will be respected and valued. Helping others is also a great way to help yourself.
- You have heard it all before–get retainers. W. Somerset Maugham once said: “It is a funny thing about life: If you refuse to accept anything but the best, you very often get it.” Same with retainers. Better to spend time with your children than put it into unpaid accounts.
- Newsletters: there are many people who achieve effective marketing through their present clients (after all, you have already convinced these people to use you–now let them convince others) by putting out great newsletters. Need the lowdown on how to produce upbeat newsletters? Milton Zwicker has just written a great book called Successful Client Newsletters–The Complete Guide to Creating Powerful Newsletters, published by the ABA. Order from their web site www.abanet.org.
- Web sites. To be sure, there are many successful lawyers who have completely reworked their practice by a successful web site. But be warned–they can be expensive and time consuming. Want to know how? Ken Johnson has written The Lawyers’s Guide to Creating Web Pages, published by the ABA (see above).
- Web sites too expensive? Get involved in listservs–legal discussion groups on the Net. People will soon start looking to you as an expert in your particular field. Greg Siskind has made his firm the leading immigration firm in the US this way.
- Hardest of all is to maintain the right attitude. Without a positive attitude, you are beaten at the starting gate. It doesn’t cost you anything to greet prospective clients with a smile and remember, everyone is a prospective client.
There are many positive ways to beat those blues–without resorting to less palatable alternatives invented by our biochemical engineering colleagues. Often it is just the first step that is difficult–and that is resolving to take the next step. After that, you are on a path out of the woods. But realise that you are not alone. The burnt-out lawyer is by no means an endangered species.
David J Bilinsky is a partner at Lakes Straith & Bilinsky and a principal of Integral Management Inc.
This article originally appeared in the August 1998 issue of BarTalk and is reproduced here with permission of both the author and the Canadian Bar Association, British Columbia Branch.